Caroline, Confidence Man, Dream Warriors, Hania Rani, Horace Andy, Lightning Bug, Stereophonics
If You Listen To One Thing This Week....
I've taken a break from Album Cover of the Week, and decided to include a video clip of the best thing I've heard all week. It could be from the albums I've reviewed or an old song that;s found itself stuck on my playlist on repeat.
This week it's a track from the new Confidence Man album 'Tilt', which is reviewed below.
This Week's Music
There's much to like most weeks, but particularly so over the last seven days.
I'll keep you waiting no longer. Here we go....
Tilt : Confidence Man
Here’s a record of bright, technicolour club tunes but that’s hardly relevant. What sells this record is the personality behind it. It’s huge, impossible to escape and screaming entertainment in every note.
This is the album with the supreme self confidence of Kid Creole and the pizazz of the B52s. It’s something that is both of the moment and timeless in the way that Wham were when they set out. ‘Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do) and Young Guns (Go For It) could be their musical manifesto, drawn from Wham’s brackets and asides. They’re a slightly more knowing version but that adds to their appeal.
This is impeccably delivered club music. It’s important to remember that when you’re caught up in the lyrics. ‘Trumpet Song’, an instrumental, and ‘Relieve The Pressure’ which is sung in French for some reason put any reservations on that score to bed.
It takes something to use so many dance cliches and samples and make them fresh. They must love this in Student Union clubs on a Friday night. It has enough cheese to stock a cheese fair, enough fizz for a lemonade bottling plant. There are more yelps and squeals per groove than Jacko and Prince combined and more boings per minute than a whole series of The Magic Roundabout,
(Note for anyone who missed children’s TV in the 60s, Every episode was ended by this little fella!)
This is a big, in your face sound suited to festivals rather than bedsit listening. But if you do listen to it alone in your bedsit, it’s guaranteed to raise a smile.
Taster Track : Feels Like A Different Thing
Home : Hania Rani
This full length album more than delivers on the promise of her ‘Live From Studio S2’ EP that I heard earlier this year. It’s a piano led collection that successfully traverses the boundary between classical and pop to create something quite distinctive.
Rani’s music is something special and different, overflowing with melody and rhythm. Her rolling piano is hypnotic and trance inducing. She’s a successful, classically trained pianist who has tumbled over into pop without dumbing down. It’s not simply pretending to be pop in the hope of reaching a wider audience. It’s a genuine cross genre package with respect for both sides of her musical personality.
Like a dreaming dog, this is peaceful and twitchy by turns. Songs and tunes emerge from a mist of memory and past experience. It feels like a moment of letting go before falling, backed by a trusting acceptance that all will be OK.
Rania is Polish. The album predates the war in Ukraine but it captures the feeling of being too close to danger for comfort. It’s atmospheric. The panting in the background of ‘Zero Hour’ alongside the threatening tension of its drums and electronica lingers long after the track is finished. ‘Buka’, in its studio recorded form, is an arresting piece, skittering and more than a little edgy.
The album contains vocals. Hearing these for the first time, they’re as distinctive, as your first encounter with Kate Bush or Bjork. They make a key contribution to tracks such as ‘Leaving’ despite being barely heard. The effect is haunting.
This is an album of rare beauty, an album that is different without sounding forced.
Taster Track : I’ll Never Find Your Soul
... And The Rest
Caroline : Caroline
This is a dark and menacing album, not for comfort listens but providing a compelling soundscape. Listen with care and have the number of a therapist close by in case you need it afterwards!
I often listen to albums with no prior understanding of what to expect. You can’t help but have some preconceptions though. Calling your band and your album ‘Caroline’ calls to mind the enjoyable chug of Status Quo’s ‘Caroline’, the sun drenched Beach Boy harmonies on ‘Caroline, No’ and the communal happiness of Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ as sung at major sporting events.
This is different. This is very different.
‘Dark Blue’ sets the scene. It’s formed around four repeated guitar notes, like a radio call signal from the past. Around them brooding bass, hissing cymbals and menacing strings rise and fall.
It’s immediately clear that this is rock music picking itself off the floor after a savage beating. It’s the sound and mood of unseen horrors in a darkened room, rock music from the asylum by a band that’s been tipped over the edge and to whom the normal rules don’t apply.
Prepare yourself for a difficult and unsettling listen. It’s full of the unexpected - the shouted backing vocal by a madman who’s had enough, screeching folk strings against repetitive and heavy rock, completely random lyrics that bear no relation to anything else in the song or on the album. If anyone can tell me why ‘IWR’ ends with the line “Do you wake up with an old set of handlebars between your fingers?” they’d earn my gratitude.
Caroline are trying to create something larger than themselves and often succeeding. It’s almost not music, so driven it is by tone, timbre, atmosphere and the feel of time dripping away. It’s the tone that tells you that this is an exploration of a frightening world in scary times.
‘Caroline’ is undeniably a difficult and discomfiting listen, but it’s often a compelling one too.
Taster Track : Good Morning
And Now The Legacy Begins : Dream Warriors
This 1991 album from Canadian hip-hoppers, Dream Warriors, lays to rest the idea that rap and hip hop have to be about dark, social issues. This is fun.
In 2020, nearly a third of all music streamed in the US was hip hop. Rap / hip hop accounted for 22% of all singles streamed in the UK in that year too. Until now, I had never listened to a hip hop album. It’s been a massive void in my listening habits. I think that’s because the tales of bling, crime, antisocial behaviour and the rest that attach to rap are no friends of mine. I mean, who goes around bragging about scratching records?
This is, for the most part, clever, witty, melodic, foot tapping music. Just a few seconds into the album comes ‘My Definition Of A Boombastic Jazz Style’, overflowing with catchy, humorous, rhythmic wordplay. They called it jazz rap and the marriage of the two is a marriage made in Heaven. ‘Follow Me Not’ is typical in its effortless wordplay (“ The fool or the fool who follows the fool”). ‘Ludi’ is playful - do these guys do Latin as well? - and it’s naggingly infectious. ‘Wash your Face In My Sink’ is clever lyrically, in its interplay and in its production. These songs are a force for joy, laughter and sunny times and, it must be said they’re a force of their personalities too.
The lyrics remain strong throughout but the music elsewhere takes a downturn into a darker place. You could trim 15 minutes or so of the darker stuff. It’s good but it takes away from the joy and effervescence that shows this album at its best.
It strikes me that rap and hip hop are closer than you might think to poetry than other forms of music. If you resist either on principle you’re missing out
The strength of this album is that it has music that cheers you up. I never thought I’d say that about rap.
Taster Track : Wash Your Face In My Sink
Midnight Rocker : Horace Andy
Part of my foray into a greater appreciation of reggae, this collection of dub reggae provides plenty of encouragement to explore the music further.
This is Horace Andy’s 41st album. That’s impressive. He worked with Massive Attack on each of their five albums. That’s impressive too. It’s also unlikely that many people know who he is. That’s surprising. (He’s also sometimes known as Sleepy. That’s quite funny!)
This is a great introduction to dub reggae. All the expected components are there - the heavy bass, the choppy guitar, the keyboards that are, by turn, light or spectral and the reverb…verb…verb…verb.
This is first and foremost a reggae album and only secondly a Horace Andy album. It’s not so much generic as archetypal reggae, operating within unwritten rules for the music. It’s also a producer’s album. Adrian Sherwood is the producer and he has a track record of making excellent dub remixes for other artists and great dub albums in his own right.
It sometimes feels as if Horace Andy is guesting on his own album. That’s until you gain a feel for the lyrics which are vested in personal experience. He sings about hard won truths from life on tracks such as ‘Easy Money’.
The addition of strings on ‘Rock To Sleep’ and again but with an Eastern tinge on ‘Try Love’ is a nice touch that helps the album to stand out, though whether that’s down to Andy or Sherwood I wouldn’t like to say.
I suspect that the relaxed vibe across the album reflects Andy’s personality if not his conscious contribution ‘Try Love’ channels an inner Bobby McFerrin encouraging us not to worry but be happy. The chanted vocals on ‘Careful’ make it a nursery rhyme for grown ups and‘Mr Bassie’ is as good an introduction to dub reggae as you’ll find anywhere.
Debating who contributed what to the songs isn’t worth too much brain power when the end result is as pleasing and accessible as it is here. The track that brings it all together is a cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Safe From Harm’. It’s a faster, less atmospheric version, more danceable too, a very good cover.
Any journey to discover new music needs some consolidation. Midnight Rocker provides that. It shows you what good dub reggae can do, in a relaxed and entertaining way. Deeper dives for more hidden treasures may be available downstream, but this is an excellent place to start.
Taster Track : Safe From Harm
A Color Of The Sky : Lightning Bug
This gorgeous record offers unhurried loveliness and comfort in equal measure, and all to a soothing instrumental backing.
From the start this sets out its stall as a pretty record, anchored by melodic and unfolding guitars. It grows into something beautiful, like a time lapse film of a flower coming to full bloom.
It’s the sound of your good dreams singing directly to you, dealing with recognisable emotions and situations with just the right amount of other worldliness to allow you ro consider them anew. It conjures up the voice of a kindly long lost relative, your guardian angel or a good fairy, whichever you believe in.
‘September Song Part 11’ captures the time that something good comes to a natural end. It’s a blend of happiness, melancholy and immediate nostalgia with a gorgeous melody that triggers happy tears and bittersweet longing.
The music is enjoyable, absorbed in itself and absorbing to listen to. The songs’ character comes from Audrey Kang’s voice. It’s a delicate, fragile thing that’s as much an instrument as a deliverer of lyrics. She explores her own emotions, anxieties and memories in a way that is both personal but resonating with universal feelings.
The one thing it isn’t is intense. It’s as light as a cobweb, floating like thistledown on a gentle summer breeze. Vashti Bunyan, Emiliana Torrini and Lavender Diamond, all of whom are included in the Pop In The Real World Shadowplay playlist, are in a similar style.
This is a record that leaves you at peace with yourself, stronger than before and grateful for its beauty.
Taster Track : September Song Part ll
(Post Script : After listening to this I realised I first listened to it in August of last year. I didn’t like it then, but the very things that didn’t work for me then were my favourite parts second time around. Just goes to show that you shouldn’t take what reviewers and critics tell you as gospel!)
Oochya : Stereophonics
What you hear is what you get with Stereophonics’ twelfth album in 25 years. It’s good and it’s familiar but I wonder if there’s a strange kind of identity crisis playing out beneath the surface.
We’ve seen it before. A band achieves deserved success and builds a legion of loyal fans, some of whom find it harder to move on from the early days than others. When the band (let’s call them Status Quo) are unable to deliver any fresh versions of their template style they become a covers band.
Stereophonics have avoided that fate and the reason is that they’re not really a band any more. This is a Kelly Jones album backed by musicians that he trusts and who fit with his vision. Unlike a band, Kelly Jones has grown older, had new and different experiences. He brings these to the music. The trouble is, he also has to meet the expectations of die hard Stereophonics’ fans.
That might explain the split between the riffing rockers (including ‘Hanging On Your Hinges’, ‘Forever’ and ‘Don’t Know What Ya Got’) and more autobiographical, personal songs, the best of which is ‘Right Place, Right Time’. Both types are performed well. No one can beat Stereophonics for songs that are ripe for setting festival crowds alight. In the more personal songs, they sound like 21st century Faces in their ‘Ooh La La’ guise. There’s a greater sense from these songs of who Kelly Jones is now.
It may also explain why the album feels overlong as he tries to fit both sides of the band into a single album. It’s like an extended gig that plays on as the audience start to leave before the trains shut down, or an over generous takeaway that you can’t bear to waste but which becomes too much.
This is a good and enjoyable rock album that doesn’t sound stale, even as it’s familiar and unchanging. There’s enough here though to suggest they could deliver more. It’s the sense that they are unwilling to move on that makes the album a mildly disappointing anticlimax.
Taster Track : Right Place Right Time
As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. The link to the Youtube playlist is https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7Eh_sy55y6i18Qj7w_Z3CQft
The Shadowplay playlists are at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/01iU7Jy80SMvJO5QBF7Oux?si=00d9d1fb8b2f4baa and https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7EjsaT8idWnNv42LqIGEGSmH&feature=share